With cancer, let’s think beyond pink

The Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders perform with pink ribbons on their boots for breast cancer awareness.
The Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders perform with pink ribbons on their boots for breast cancer awareness. The Associated Press

In the quarter century or so since a Simi Valley housewife launched a grass-roots campaign to use ribbons to raise awareness of the disease that claimed the lives of her daughter, sister and grandmother, breast cancer awareness has become a mantra nationwide.

Perhaps you noticed. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month wrapped up last week, the nation was hip deep in pink ribbons – and pink-ribboned products – from the White House to the local supermarket. Unfortunately, it’s unclear how much difference all that marketing might actually make.

Last week, the American Cancer Society reported that the incidence of breast cancer among black women has risen to the point that it equals the incidence among white women – terrible news, since black women tend to have higher death rates from breast cancer.

Meanwhile, the incidence of lethal metastatic breast cancer has been essentially unchanged for many years now.

And evolving opinion and the long history of women’s diseases getting short shrift have sown confusion over prevention. A federal panel of experts recently issued new mammogram guidelines, recommending that women start screenings later and get fewer of them. But the advice conflicts with that of some other experts and has raised fears that insurers will approve less mammogram coverage for women at risk.

Women’s organizations are right in increasingly pointing out that mere “awareness” is insufficient. Only action on research, prevention and treatment will move the needle on this frightening disease.

Now that the month of “awareness” is over, perhaps we can begin to think more deeply about curing this disease that has claimed the lives of so many beloved mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

As you cull through future solicitations and offers to donate proceeds from the sale of this or that pink product to this or that breast cancer charity, think twice – and then direct your time, donations and efforts toward actions that will make a difference: Research. Care. Prevention. Real progress against a disease in which real lives are in the balance.

For all the consciousness that has been raised – and we applaud it – 1 woman in 8 still can expect to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. This issue is too serious and too deadly for mere annual entreaties to wear and buy pink.